5 Ways to Teach STEM to Gen Zs in a Pandemic-Recovering World

Ginelle Testa

The past few years have brought challenge after challenge and change after change. Teaching STEM to Gen Zs in the midst of a pandemic, global warming, gun violence, and other sociopolitical challenges is not easy for any instructor.

There’s a growing concern about Gen Z’s mental health due to all of these concerns. Researchers found during the 2020–2021 school year, 60% of students met the criteria for one or more mental health problems, a nearly 50% increase from 2013. 

How does a STEM teacher focus on labs, lectures, and activities in the middle of a mental health crisis? It’s difficult, but there is hope. With all the troubles also came resilience and adaptability. There are ways STEM instructor can support their Gen Z students and take care of themselves in the process. 

Here are five best practices for teaching STEM to Gen Z that we’ve curated for you:

1. Explore what makes Gen Z unique

It’s important to stay aware of how Gen Z is different from prior generations so that you can best instruct them. Gen Zs grew up in a deeply interconnected world, accessible via technology and the internet in a way that no other generation has experienced. As a result, sadly, they’re highly aware of global challenges. A study by Deloitte found in 2021, climate change and environmental issues were the top concerns for this generation.This is relevant in the classroom because they bring their stress with them. 

2. Engage disengaged students

Learning gaps were prevalent in STEM courses where hands-on and collaborative experiences were unavailable. According to EdSurge, teachers have seen “regression in academic test scores, significant learning loss and an increase in students dropping out of school.” It’s a steep challenge to address these issues. 

How do you best engage disengaged students?

We’ve written a blog post on that topic, but here are the main points:

  • Focus on the why
  • Utilize the right interactive technology
  • Encourage diversity in STEM

3. Teachers: it’s important to take care of yourself

As I’m sure you know, protecting your own mental and physical health while you’re teaching is crucial for long-term success and well-being. We wrote another article on some tips for practicing self-care as a STEM instructor and a different one about how administrators can support your self-care.

What’re some of the main points? Teachers can set boundaries and recognize what they can control and what they can’t. Administrators can collect survey data, listen, and implement meaningful policies and wellness programs. 

4. Use technology to meet your students where they are

Without overburdening yourself with too many tools, select the ones that will make your life easier. Virtual labs can help with the blended learning approach. They usually don’t replace in-person labs entirely but rather can be used as a supplement for pre or post lab learning or to fill in when you don’t have the budget for certain resources in the lab. Learning tools, like Labster, that offer gamified experiences help students to stay focused and interested. 

5. Know your limits

Compassion fatigue is real. It’s important to acknowledge that instructors are not mental health professionals. What they can and should do is limited. The main problem often lies in school resources. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 counselors to one student, and even that isn’t met most of the time. Remember that you only do so much, and be gentle with yourself around that.

According to a survey conducted by Pearson of 6,000 college students, 80% of them say their generation has become more resilient because of the adversity they faced during the pandemic. Don’t give up hope, and do what you can.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What teacher self-care practices are working for you? 
  • What are some of the best instructional strategies for teaching Gen Z? 
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